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Forgive Us Our Debts

Tom Pennington • Matthew 6:12

  • 2013-03-17 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


It is our joy this morning to return to Matthew chapter 6. You know, as a teacher and preacher, there are times when I open to a text and teach you and I know in my heart that that text is not immediately applicable and directly applicable to everyone who's listening to me. This would not be one of those days because we're going to deal this morning with the issue of sin and forgiveness. And if you're still breathing, and I trust everyone here still is, you deal with that reality every single day, and so do I. And so it is immediately and directly applicable. Every true follower of Jesus Christ still sins. If you doubt that, read Romans 7, especially the second half where the apostle Paul describes his own struggle with sin even as a mature apostle of Jesus Christ.

When we sin however, we are tempted to deal with sin wrongly, and I think at two extremes. On the one hand, we are tempted, when we sin, to minimize that sin. Sometimes frankly we just refuse to take responsibility personally. This has a long tradition going back to the Garden when Adam said, "God, it's the woman whom You gave me…" And throughout scripture and throughout human history and in all of our lives, we are very tempted to offload the responsibility for our sin. That's why ultimately it comes back to God. And that's why in James chapter 1, James writes, "Don't let anyone say when he's tempted, I'm being tempted by God" . . .because to blame anything other than yourself is ultimately to blame God.

Sometimes we take personal responsibility, but we still minimize it by rationalizing it. It's like Saul, you remember, when Samuel says, "What means this bleating of the sheep in my ears?" I thought God said you were to kill all of these animals and Saul says, Well, you know, the people – they kept them for sacrifice. We do the same thing when it comes to our own sin. Thomas Watson, the English Puritan, I think points out that when it comes to sin, Satan has an absolutely brilliant strategy because, for some people, Satan shows them their sin through the wrong end of the telescope. You ever look through the wrong end of the telescope? What you see in the telescope in that view at that point is much smaller than it really is. Satan does that to us. To some of us, we look at our sin through the wrong end of the telescope and it looks small and insignificant or perhaps even nonexistent. And so, as a result, we excuse it, we overlook it, we ignore it. We generally do nothing about it.

On the other extreme, but not minimizing it, is despairing because of the weight and guilt of sin. And again, Thomas Watson points out that for other people, Satan has them look through the right end of the telescope. And when they see their sin, it appears so great that it frightens them into despair and it drives them away from God.

Those are two wrong ways to respond to sin at opposite extremes. And either way, this same effect is produced. Either because we have minimized our sin or because we have despaired under the weight of our sin, we are often tempted not to confess our sin to God. This is what happened with David in the Psalm we read together this morning. Did you notice those descriptions of the time he waited to confess his sin? He says, in Psalm 32

When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. (There were physical effects of the guilt of sin. There was conviction.) Day and night, God's hand was heavy upon me; (and then I love this description) my (spiritual) vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer."

What Texas Augusts do to your body, David says staying silent about my sin did to my soul. It shriveled it up. It sapped it of all energy and life. In fact, he goes on in verse 5 to say that before he acknowledged his sin, he actually was hiding it. The Hebrew word is covering it. He covered it. He hid it. He tried to hide it from himself. That's why back in verse 2 it talks about not being filled with deceit in your heart. Sometimes we deceive ourselves. We try to deceive others about our sin. And sometimes we even try to hide it and deceive God, as if that were possible. David did that, by the way, for more than nine months from the time he got Bathsheba pregnant and had her husband killed until after the child was born. And then Nathan came and confronted him, and this was the result.

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us that we are not to ignore our sin, we're not to minimize it, we're not to fail to be honest with ourselves, we're not to cover it from ourselves or from others or from God, we're not to refuse to confess it. Instead, we are to approach our Father daily, seeing our sin as He sees it, confessing it to Him and asking for His forgiveness. Let's look again at the Lord's Prayer. Matthew 6:9

Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'

Last week, we began to study the last three petitions in the Lord's Prayer. Of course, the first three are about God – about His glory, and His kingdom, and His will. These three are for us and for our needs. Specifically last week, we looked at the fourth petition in verse 11: "Give us this day our daily bread." And we saw that that deals with all of the physical needs of this life. We are to ask God to provide, on a daily basis, everything we need to sustain life here – for food, for shelter, for clothing, for health, for jobs, for everything necessary to sustain our physical lives.

Now in the fifth and sixth petitions, we have the spiritual needs of this life. By the way, let me just say in passing that the fact that there's only one petition that deals with our physical lives and there are two petitions that deal with our spiritual lives, with our souls, means that there's something wrong when we spend more time on our bodies than we do on our souls. It's a very real temptation a lot of Christians face. Notice the last petition, verse 13. This is the sixth one that Lord willing, in a couple weeks after Resurrection Sunday, we'll look at: "Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This petition has to do with our constant need of spiritual protection and personal holiness.

But today I want us to look back at the fifth petition that deals with the reality of sin and the need of confession. Look at verse 12: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." In those very familiar words, we find the crucial issue of confession of sin. In this fifth petition, Jesus teaches us that there are three crucial responses to sin in our lives. Let's look at those responses together. First of all, we must acknowledge the reality of our sins. He says: "Forgive us our debts…" Although in regeneration, in the moment of salvation when God made us new, when He gave us a new heart, in the words of Jeremiah; at that moment we received new desires and new dispositions. We had a complete change. We are a new person in Jesus Christ. Although that is true, it did not change the reality of our sinfulness. There is a part of you, believer, that remains unredeemed. Its beachhead is in your body which has not been redeemed, but it's more than just your body. Paul calls it the flesh. It is ever with us. It is a reality that you will never get away from. For the believer, the cancer of sin is no longer growing, it's no longer advancing. In fact, if you're truly in Christ, the tumor is shrinking, to use that analogy. You are seeing a decrease in the pattern of sin in your life and an increase in the pattern of righteousness, but the tumor has not been eradicated.

1 John 1 speaks of those who claim otherwise. In 1 John 1:8, it says: "If we say that we have no sin, (that's probably a claim to have no inherent disposition to sin, not to have fallenness) we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." Verse 10, he says: "If we say that we have not sinned…" This is probably a claim not to have sinful acts. Now this person probably isn't saying they do nothing wrong. Instead, they're saying something like this: I'm basically a good person and occasionally I do bad things. Jesus says if that's your claim, "you make God a liar and His word is not in you." If you say, You know, I'm basically a good person. Yeah, occasionally I do things I shouldn't do but…, John says you're calling God a liar and His word isn't in you.

As long as we remain in this life, we will be plagued by personal sin. Now here in Matthew, Jesus describes the nature of our ongoing struggle with sin in two graphic words. Notice the first one down in verses 14 and 15. It's the word transgressions, literally trespass. The Greek word means a falling beside. It refers to a false step, leaving the path you're supposed to be on. It's crossing of the boundaries. It pictures you walking between two fields on public property and, at some point, you leave the path you're supposed to be on, you trespass, you step across the boundary into someone else's property. That's how sin is described. It is leaving the path of righteousness. It is trespassing where we have no right to be.

The other word that's used here is used in verse 12 in our text for this morning. It's the word debts. Now this is a very interesting word because of what it shows us about Jesus and His life. You see, there's clear evidence in the New Testament that Jesus, while He was here, spoke three different languages. He spoke Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was originally written and usually read in the synagogues. He spoke Greek, which was the trade language of the first century world. We see Him interacting with Greeks. And He also spoke Aramaic. This would have been the most common language Jesus would have spoken. It was the language spoken in the land of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. Well, the Aramaic word for sin is debt. Originally, the word was used of a literal financial obligation. Later it came to be used metaphorically of something that we owe to people or we owe to God. So, Matthew, as he writes his gospel, having heard Jesus speak in Aramaic and use the word debt for sin, simply uses the Greek word for debt. And now as it's translated into English, we get the word debt as well. This comes straight from the mouth of Christ as all the Scripture does.

We owe God is the picture behind this word. Now obviously, we understand we owe God everything, right? He made us. He is the One who sustains us, who provides everything that we need. As Paul says, "He gives to all life, breath and all things." But that's not the debt Jesus is referring to here, because notice the debt, here, needs to be forgiven. Luke makes it crystal clear, because in Luke 11:4 where he describes Jesus' teaching of this prayer on another occasion a few months later, Luke puts it this way. Jesus said, "Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." So He uses both both words, sin and debt.

Debts, then, (listen carefully) is a word picture of human sin. Exactly what does it picture? Here's the idea behind it. You owe God, as I do, perfect obedience. He created you. He made you. And you owe Him your obedience. He sustains your life. He gives you everything you have. And He has told you what He expects of you. He has told you in this word that He's written and given to us. And He's even, according to Paul in Romans 2, written the substance of what you owe Him on your heart. You know that, because even though our conscience is a flawed tool, how often has your conscience, like mine, says, you did wrong? God's told us. When we fail to render that obedience to God that we owe Him, when we fail to render to Him that perfect obedience that is His due, we accumulate debt to God. Before we came to Christ, we were not only in debt to God; we had accumulated a debt that we could never have repaid.

Hopefully in a couple of weeks when we look at verses 14 and 15, I'll take you to Matthew 18. And in Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable. And in that parable, He draws a word picture to illustrate the debt that each of us has accumulated to God. As you sit here this morning, you may think to yourself: look, you know, he's talking about sins. I just, I don't feel like I'm that bad a person. I don't feel like I've really accumulated any debt with God. Well, that may be how you feel, but that's not the reality. Jesus describes the reality in this parable, because, in the parable there is a man who has accumulated debt to his lord. And the man represents every one of us. And in that parable, Jesus said this man accumulated a debt equal to 150,000 years of wages for the average worker in the first century. Let me say that again – 150,000 years of debt. Jesus says that's you and the debt you owe God. Now think about that for a moment. What that means is if that man, representing us, could work every day of his life, and instead of having to pay any other bills, he could take one hundred percent of what he earns and put it toward the debt he had accumulated, it would take him two thousand lifetimes to pay off the debt. That's Jesus' picture of you and me and the debt we have accumulated with God.

You see the reason it's that's high? We look at our sins of commission; that is, our acts of disobedience. And those are bad enough, but we look at those and say, Well, you know, maybe today I committed two or three sins. Let me tell you how God looks at it. Jesus says the whole law is summarized in two basic laws, you remember? Number one is love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Number two is love your neighbor as yourself. Now let me ask you a question. How often have you sinned against those commands? The answer is every moment you have taken breath. You and I have accumulated a massive unpayable debt. And, by the way, if you're not in Christ, even as you sit here this morning you are accumulating debt. Paul puts it this way in Romans 2:5. He says: "because of your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God…" That's a frightening statement. Paul says, Listen, you think everything's fine, you know, because God hasn't done anything yet He must be okay with you? He says, you'd better think again. You're accumulating debt, and someday you're going to pay for that debt with the wrath that God will bring. Every day an unbeliever lives without repentance, he is accumulating a greater debt and God's greater wrath, Paul says.

But here's the good news. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, He paid your debt in full. Look at Colossians 2. I love the way Paul describes this here. Colossians 2:13. He says:

When you were dead (that is, spiritually dead) in your transgressions (your acts of rebellion, your trespasses) and the uncircumcision of your flesh (you weren't set apart to God. When you were dead), God made you alive together with Christ, (He regenerated you. He made you new at the moment of salvation. And notice, in doing that) He forgave us all our transgressions, (Now how did He do that? Look at verse 14) having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us…

That expression certificate of debt in the ancient world was used very specifically to refer to a handwritten promissory note, an I.O.U. Now what did we owe God? What was the certificate of debt, showing what we owed God? Notice verse 14: "consisting of the decrees against us (God's laws)…" You and I had accumulated this massive debt which we could never repay because we had violated His law as often as we had taken breath.

When Sheila and I bought our first piece of property in California, we sat in a small escrow office somewhere. And for an hour and a half one morning, we signed our names. You've been there and done that if you have property. We signed away our oil rights. We signed away our mineral rights. We signed away our firstborn child. The truth is, to this day, I have no idea what I really committed to that morning. I just kept signing. But one thing was sure – we had committed to pay a ridiculous amount of money for something that was not much larger than a tool shed. And I remember lying in bed that night feeling the incredible weight of the debt that I had just accumulated. Multiply that an infinite number of times and that was the debt we owed to God. Before we came to Christ, we owed a debt to Him that could never be repaid in two thousand lifetimes, or in eternal punishment.

But notice verse 14: "He canceled out the certificate of debt…" God cancelled our debt. And here's what's really important. Notice He didn't do this simply by tearing up our debt and pretending that we never had a debt. But He did it, notice the end of verse 14, by "nailing it to the cross"; in other words, by having Jesus pay the debt in full. Pilate nailed one thing to the cross, but God nailed something entirely different. God nailed a perfect, comprehensive record of every sin you have ever or will ever commit. He nailed it to the cross, and for those hours He poured out His just wrath on Jesus, so that Jesus paid in full your debt. It's gone.

Now go back to Matthew 6. In this text and in Luke 11, the two accounts of the Lord's Prayer, all three words for sin – debts, transgressions and sins – are all plural because every day, without exception, we commit many different sins: sins of commission (that is, active sins committed against God's law) and sins of omission (that is, things we're supposed to do that we don't do). Dutch theologian Hermann Witsius wrote this: "We are chargeable with debts, debts of every description – original, imputed, inherent and actual; debts of omission and commission; of ignorance, infirmity and deliberate wickedness; without limits and without number." That's our debt. The fact that Christ uses a financial word here in verse 12 to describe our sins points out our spiritual bankruptcy. And that takes us right back, doesn't it, to the picture in the first beatitude? "Blessed are the poor in spirit (the beggars in spirit)…" - those who realize they have no assets to pay their debts, and all they can do is beg God to forgive them. That's where you start in the Christian life. If you still think you have something that can pay your debts, then you're not a believer. It's only the person who comes to realize they have absolutely no way to retire the debt they've accumulated, and they just need God's forgiveness.

During a visit to India, now a number of years ago back in the mid-nineties, my host took me to a Hindu temple. It was out on an island just off the coast, and there was a causeway that led out to it. And all along this causeway there were beggars. One of them still is emblazoned in my mind because it's not a scene that we see very often. There was a man there begging who had neither arms nor legs. He was just a stump of a man. He could do absolutely nothing for himself. All he could do was ask his friends to deliver him there and then to beg. That's a perfect picture of our spiritual condition before God. We have no personal merit. We have no effort that we can make that will pay the debt. We have nothing that we are and nothing that we can do that will pay our debt. All we can do is beg - ask God to forgive our sin and to restore our relationship to Him. It's the picture Jesus tells in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, when the tax collector he describes there at the temple: "not even lifting up his eyes to heaven, but beating his chest and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'" This fifth petition is a cry for mercy and grace: mercy – God, don't treat me as I deserve to be treated, and grace – God, give me instead, in fact, what I don't deserve.

And by the way, you see this attitude in all prayers of confession in the Scripture. Read those great prayers of confession. Read Nehemiah 9, Daniel 9, Psalm 32 that we read this morning. Or what about Psalm 51? You remember how David begins that psalm? He doesn't say, You know, God, forgive me because you know I've really served You most of my life and… No, he says what? "Be gracious to me, O God…" God, be good to me even though I don't deserve it, and forgive me. Daily we are to acknowledge to God the reality of our sinfulness.

There's a second biblical response to our sins, that our Lord teaches us here in verse 12, and that is, we must understand the nature of forgiveness. There are professing Christians who don't think that we as Christians should pray this prayer. The reasons that people give fall into two categories. Some believe that you can attain spiritual perfection in this life, so you don't need to pray this prayer. We all know both theologically, biblically and practically that that's ridiculous. But there are others who say you shouldn't pray this prayer to ask forgiveness for your sins because you've already been justified, and in justification you have received forgiveness for all your sins. And yet, Jesus, here, commands His disciples and all of those who can legitimately call God Father to pray this petition. This is a pattern for all of us who already know God through His Son to pray. Jesus says, pray: Father, forgive our debts.

Now what exactly, then, are we asking God to do in this prayer? Literally, the Greek word for forgive means to send away or to let go of a debt, not to demand that the person repay the debt, to remit or to forgive. The opposite of forgive, by the way, in this context is shown to us in John 20:23. There John says the opposite of forgive is to retain, to hold onto. So we are praying: God, don't hold on to these debts I've accumulated with You; instead, let them go. Send them away. Forgive. Do not demand payment.

Now if you're a thinking Christian and I hope you are, you're saying, Wait a minute. I thought that's what happened to me at the moment of my salvation, that all of my sins past, present and future were pardoned by God. So why do I, as a Christian, still need to ask for forgiveness? Doesn't Colossians 2:13 say that "He's forgiven us all our transgressions"? Why does a sinner who has been totally forgiven, who has been declared forever righteous before God, still need to ask for daily forgiveness? It's a good question, isn't it? Well, our Lord answers it in John 13. Turn there with me. It's a very familiar story beginning in verse 3:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, (this is of course the Last Supper in the upper room. John 13:4) and He laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

So He's going around the table literally washing all of the disciples' feet. And He comes to Peter. You've got to love Peter. Peter says, Lord, really? You're going to wash my feet? "And Jesus answered and said to him, 'What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.'" He's essentially saying, Peter, look. There's a spiritual point I'm going to make. You're going to understand it. Just play along here. Peter, well-intentioned, thinks this is completely inappropriate for his Lord, his Master, God Himself, to wash his feet. And so he says to Him, verse 8:

Never shall You wash my feet!" (And Jesus says to him, Look. I'm teaching you a spiritual lesson. And if I don't wash your feet, then in the lesson I'm teaching it'll show that you have no part with Me.) So Simon Peter said to Him, 'Then Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.' Jesus said to him, 'He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, (and by the way, the word you here is plural. All of a sudden, Jesus is talking not just to Peter but to all of the disciples – you are clean) but not all of you.' For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, 'Not all of you are clean.'

Now what's going on here? Jesus is teaching His disciples two lessons. The first lesson is an example of humility in service. You see this in verses 12 through 16. He essentially says to them: You call me Lord. I have done menial service to you. You need to be willing to do menial service to one another. But that wasn't the only lesson Jesus was teaching here. He was also teaching a lesson in spiritual cleansing. Look again at verse 10: "Jesus said to Peter, 'He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, (he's already completely clean) and all of you disciples are clean (well, except Judas, but the rest of you are clean)…'"

Now what's going on here? Jesus is teaching us about spiritual cleansing. And He's saying: At the moment of salvation, you had a spiritual bath. That's your justification. You were completely clean. You don't ever need another spiritual bath. You don't ever need to go back and get justified again, but we need our feet to be cleaned because as we walk through this world, we do sin. That's the daily confession of sin and the seeking of God's forgiveness.

You see, at the moment of salvation, your relationship to God completely changed. You went from being a rebel against your rightful King to being His adopted son or daughter. In salvation, picture it this way. Picture two different rooms. Picture a courtroom and a private home. In salvation, you went into the courtroom. Before God as your King and your Judge, you stood before Him as a guilty criminal, saying, God, forgive me for my crimes against Your righteous laws. In justification, the Judge sitting on His throne declared you forgiven of sin and completely righteous before the law. That's justification. That happened at the moment of your salvation. What happened, then, was the Judge came out from behind His bench, put His arm around you and adopted you into His family. You left the courtroom, never to go back in the courtroom of God's justice again. That's why Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now (what?) no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." You're never going to be condemned in God's courtroom again because you were declared justified. You were bathed.

But you left the courtroom with the One who was once your Judge and is now your Father, and you came into a private home, the Father's home, where you now live as His child. And when you sin day by day, you don't need to go back with the Judge to the courtroom and to be justified again (that's forever settled), but you need as the son of your Father, as the daughter of your Father, to say, Father, forgive me. I've sinned against You. I've violated this wonderful relationship. You've adopted me and I've sinned against You as my Father. You see, toward us God is no longer an offended angry Judge, but a loving gracious Father. Here's what I love. Whether you sit here this morning as someone who hasn't yet been justified in God's courtroom, or whether God is your Father and you need His forgiveness as your Father, either way if you will come to God on His terms (are you ready for this, this is amazing), He will be quick to forgive. Now I didn't make that up. This is how God describes Himself. If I had time, I'd take you back to Exodus 34 where Moses says, God, proclaim Your name to me. Tell me what You're like. And God does and it's wonderful. In Exodus 34:6, the Lord passed by in front of Moses and this is what He proclaimed. He says here's what I am:

I am. I am God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; who keeps steadfast love for thousands, (not meaning thousands of people, but probably thousands of generations. And I love this. Here's how God describes Himself: I am the One) who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin;

God says, You want to know what I'm like? Here's what I'm like. I am a forgiver. Just in case you're tempted to play around with God's forgiveness and to take it for granted and not to be serious about dealing with sin in your life, He adds "yet I will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…" So don't think God's quickness to forgive means He plays around lightly with sin. But He's a forgiver.

I love Psalm 86:5. I find myself rehearsing this in my own mind several times a week. Psalm 86:5 says, "You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in steadfast love to all who call upon You." This is who God is. He's ready to forgive. He's eager to forgive, because this is His nature.

Psalm 32:5 – David says: "I acknowledged my sin to You, my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin (oh by the way, murder and adultery)."

Psalm 130:4. "There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." Proverbs 28:13 – "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find (God's) compassion." Isaiah 55:7 – "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

I like the way Micah puts it in his prophecy in Micah 7:18:

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under His feet. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."

I love in the new covenant that we're all participating in as believers. In Hebrews 8:12, we're told that new covenant promise says: "I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." This is who God is.

Now the question is how can a righteous God send away the guilt of sinners? How can He cancel the debt we have accumulated against Him? And there's only one answer from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, and that is by someone else paying it in our place. You understand God couldn't just wave His hand and say, Debt forgiven, because that would be a violation of His character, of His holiness and of His justice. Somebody had to pay – either you for all eternity or Jesus Christ. And that's exactly what God did. Isaiah 53:

He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to strike Him. (literally the Hebrew says)

When you and I come to God asking for His forgiveness, we are approaching our own Father and we are asking Him to forgive our debts against us. We're asking Him to restore not our relationship to Him (He's still our Father), but we're asking Him to maintain our fellowship with Him in spite of the fact that we sin against Him, and to do so solely because of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus is commanding us here to do this as often as we pray, on a daily basis. That's the nature of the forgiveness in Matthew 6:12. It's not the bath that we got in justification, that's only once, but it's the washing of our feet as we walk through this world.

To pray, Forgive us our debts means that we acknowledge the reality of our sins, that we understand the nature of forgiveness, and thirdly, we must meet the conditions for forgiveness. There are conditions for gaining God's forgiveness. The first one is here in this text, and that's we must forgive others, the forgiveness of others. Notice again Matthew 6:12: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (that is, those who have sinned against us)" Now it's crucial that you understand what this does not mean. This does not mean that you earn God's forgiveness by forgiving others. Forgiveness cannot be earned. In fact, Ephesians 1:7 says, "We have the forgiveness of sins in Him according to the riches of His grace…" Forgiveness is always and only from grace, God's goodness to those who deserve exactly the opposite. You will never earn God's forgiveness, but God has placed conditions before He will bestow the grace of forgiveness.

What does He mean here? Turn over to Mark 11:25 because I think our Lord explains Himself. He says: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." In other words, He makes it clear here that our forgiveness of others doesn't earn forgiveness from God. Instead, it is a condition that must be met before God forgives us. Now, what is Jesus saying? Leon Morris explains it this way. He says: "We have no right to seek forgiveness for our own sins if we are withholding forgiveness from others." In fact, this issue is so important to Christ that it's the only part of the Lord's Prayer He comes back to after He finishes teaching us the Lord's Prayer. We'll get there in a few weeks. Look at Matthew 6:14.

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

That is a frightening statement. Do you understand what Jesus is saying? He's saying, if you are harboring bitterness, and anger, and unwillingness to forgive someone in your life, then don't you for a moment imagine that God is hearing you and forgiving you. You're not forgiving others. God has not been forgiving you. That's the bottom line.

Luke 11:4 has a slightly different construction of this condition. Here's how Jesus put it a few months later. He said pray this way: "Forgive us our sins, for (present tense) we are forgiving our debtors." In other words: Lord, this is our pattern. This is our practice. This is our habit, to forgive those who sin against us. Let it sink into your mind that if you are not forgiving, (if there's someone as you sit here this morning that you are more than aware you have not forgiven them) then Jesus says don't expect God to forgive you. It's not happening.

There's a second condition that's implied here, but is commanded throughout the Scripture, and that is repentance and confession toward God. Scripture is clear that without repentance and confession, forgiveness is impossible. Psalm 32:5 – "I acknowledged my sin to You, my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; and (then) You forgave the guilt of my sin. (after confession)" Proverbs 28:13, I quoted a moment ago: "He who conceals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion." Now let me just clarify. That doesn't mean that if you're really repentant, you will never, ever commit that sin again. That's not what the scriptures indicate. We tend to struggle with the same sins in our lives, although there ought to be a decreasing pattern of sin in our lives and an increasing pattern of righteousness. What is commanded of us here is a heart that says: God, I am confessing this sin to You, and I'm not playing mind games with You. I hate this sin and I would rather never commit this sin against You again. That's what it means to confess and forsake. It's a willingness to turn from your sin and pursue righteousness.

On the other hand, if when you're praying, you have in the back of your mind, You know, I'm asking God's forgiveness cause I'm commanded to do this and I don't want Him angry with me, but I'm looking forward to the next time I commit this sin, then don't you for a moment believe God's forgiving that sin. There has to be a willingness to turn from that sin. And God knows your heart. He's not going to play those mind games with you. Don't deceive yourself or try to deceive Him.

If you're here this morning and you stand in the courtroom of God's justice still. You have never really sought His forgiveness and you have a lifetime of debt that you have accumulated before Him, and maybe this morning the Holy Spirit has made you painfully aware of that. Here's the really good news. God will respond to you in the same way with forgiveness. Read Isaiah 55: 6- 9. Some of my favorite verses in Scripture. God says listen: "Let the wicked man forsake his way (that is, his, his predictable patterns of behavior. Let him have a willingness to turn from his sin) and the unrighteous his thoughts; (how he thinks) and return to the Lord, for He will have compassion… and He will abundantly pardon." That's how God'll respond to you. If you're willing to turn from your sin this morning and, through Christ, have the forgiveness God offers, He's not going to hold you at arm's length. He will abundantly pardon you.

Now for those of us who are believers, I want to finish this morning with the most famous text on confession. Turn with me to 1 John 1. I want to finish here because there are some very practical directives about how we're to confess our sins here in this verse. Let me give them to you. Really just jot them down, think about them. I'm not going to expand on them, but just be aware of how we ought to confess our sin. First of all, notice we're to accept full responsibility for our sin: "If we confess our sin…" That word confess is the Greek word homologeo. You, you recognize the first part of that; homo - same. We say the same thing about our sin that God would say. In other words, you take full responsibility. You don't minimize. You don't excuse it. You say, God, it's sin. I'm fully responsible. No one else is responsible. It's because of who I am by birth and the choices I've made throughout my life. I am simply displaying the person that I am. You take full responsibility.

Notice you confess, secondly, specific sins: "If we confess our sins…" Now that doesn't mean you have to confess every sin. You don't even know every sin you commit, nor do I. And you can confess sin as a principle in your life as well. But when there are specific sins that you are convicted about, that you're feeling the weight of, you confess those specific sins.

Thirdly, you plead the character of God. Notice: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful…" You see, God has made promises (I just recited them) to forgive your sin. You plead His character. I often find myself saying, God, here I am again. I need Your forgiveness yet again. It seems like I spend my life doing this and I do. Please forgive me because You've made promises. I don't deserve Your forgiveness. I don't deserve for You to hear me again, but You've made promises and You're faithful to Your promises. I know You'll keep Your promise. Plead His character.

Number four: always remember that Christ and the cross earned your forgiveness. Notice that little word righteous: "He is faithful and righteous…" How can God be righteous and cancel your sin? It's because He vindicated His righteousness in punishing Jesus for your sin. Romans 3: 24 and 25 - He made Him to be the propitiation (the satisfaction) of God's wrath. He vindicated His righteousness (it says) at the cross. So remember when you're asking God for forgiveness, the only reason you have any hope to expect that forgiveness is because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Number five: always expect complete forgiveness. Notice He promises: "If we confess our sins, (if, if there's a repentant heart, a willingness to leave our sin and to confess our sins to Him) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." They are probably two sides of the same coin. Forgive us the debt we've accumulated against Him. And the other expression pictures sin as if I had stained my soul and He cleanses us from that stain.

Don't you love the images that Scripture gives of God's forgiveness? Philip Ryken writes this: "God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of His grace. When you go to Him weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, (I love this) He will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan. He will not scheme to charge you more interest. He will not send you to purgatory or anywhere else to work off your own debts. On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free." Jesus says make this a daily part of your prayer: "Father, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Let's pray together.

Lord, we are overwhelmed at Your grace of forgiveness in our lives, that You have cancelled out all of our debt by nailing it to the cross. Father, I pray for the person here this morning who carries with them a lifetime of guilt and sin, who has accumulated an unpayable debt before You and has never experienced full and complete forgiveness. Father, I pray, may this be the day when they see that You are eager to forgive, if they will simply turn from their sin to You through Your Son. Lord, for the rest of us, may this be the daily pattern of our lives - seeking Your forgiveness which You are so gracious and eager to extend. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount